By Carl Horowitz for the National Legal and policy Center.
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 – and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP’s smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor. Union officials and organizers at every opportunity created and exploited populist rage toward the wealthy, now redubbed “the 1 percent,” playing a key role in shutting down the Wisconsin State Capitol, organizing Occupy Wall Street protests, and conducting corporate harassment campaigns. Taking the high road, unions also heavily relied on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enact what amounted to stealth legislation.
In the NLRB, at least, unions had a true ally. By law, the normally five-member NLRB must consist of three members of one major party and two of the other. With Barack Obama in the White House, Democrats now provided the tiebreaker vote. The president’s recess appointments in March 2010 of two party members, Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, both experienced union lawyers, paid off handsomely last year. This past April the board filed a complaint against Boeing Co., claiming the company had deprived an International Association of Machinists local in Washington State of its right to strike when it located a second production line for a new jumbo jet to South Carolina, a Right to Work state. The board effectively sent a message to unionized manufacturers that they must subject key expansion decisions to union veto power. Every union, not just the IAM, stood to gain. And in the end, they did. The NLRB dropped the suit in December, providing Boeing with a nominal victory, but only after the Machinists had worked out a favorable contract extension with the company several days earlier.
The NLRB, meanwhile, unveiled a new rule in June to reduce drastically the time elapse between a union filing for representation petition and workers voting on whether to unionize. The board finalized the regulation in December in the face of intense House GOP opposition, thus assuring (for now) that employers will have little time to oppose a union organizing campaign. And the NLRB ruling by 3 to 1 in UNICCO Service Co. made it more difficult for an employer taking over a unionized company to avoid recognition of the union as a bargaining agent (i.e., the “successor bar”).
The board invited scrutiny in other ways. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in September wrote Becker on what role he played, if any, in preparing an anti-corporate organizing manual for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) where he formerly served as associate general counsel. The SEIU found this manual highly useful in its more than year-long campaign to destroy the brand name of Sodexo, which eventually, this March, countered with a racketeering suit against the SEIU. Sen. Hatch’s request might seem moot in the aftermath of President Obama’s withdrawal of his nomination in December of Becker for a full term on the board. But the president, faced with another protracted period with a nonfunctioning two-member board, only days ago appointed Left-leaning Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, along with the obligatory second Republican, Terence Flynn, to the board during a Senate “recess” of dubious constitutionality.
The Service Employees revealed themselves once more to be masters of political agitprop. Not only did the union engage in an intimidation campaign against Sodexo, it also played a central role in fomenting Occupy Wall Street and offshoot campaigns. Moreover, as reported in February, two of the Midwest residences raided by the FBI in September 2010 for possible linkages to the terrorist groups Hamas (Gaza and the West Bank) and FARC (Colombia) belonged, respectively, to a current and former official of Chicago-based SEIU Local 73, Joe Iosbaker and Tom Burke. Iosbaker, at least, is back in the news. He and another FBI suspect, Andy Thayer, helped lead Occupy Chicago protests in October. And a longtime prominent SEIU organizer, Stephen Lerner, not only was active in the Occupy movement, but earlier in the year laid out an economic destabilization plan – caught on tape during a speech in New York – to decimate America’s banks and corporations. Lerner, several times a visitor to the Obama White House, has been all over the map since, identifying and denouncing “billionaires” at whom activists could vent their wrath.
Other unions flexed their muscles at the perfidious “1 percent.” AFL-CIO-affiliated labor federations in Boston, Chicago and Orange County, Calif., for instance, organized “Occupy” protests. Along with the SEIU, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America, AFSCME and the New York State United Teachers each endorsed Occupy Wall Street squatters. Even AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka paid the Wall Street occupiers a friendly personal visit. Trumka had plenty else to keep him busy, most notably, a fledgling “Super PAC” to raise money for progressive candidates in 2012. He’ll have plenty of allies in Wisconsin, where public employees unions spearheaded a three-week mass takeover of the State Capitol in Madison and surrounding grounds starting in mid-February. Supportive Democratic state senators fled town in unison with the intention of preventing a quorum for a vote on GOP Governor Scott Walker’s budget, a large portion of which contained proposals to curtail union collective bargaining authority. They lost – temporarily. After the AWOL senators returned home to a hero’s welcome, the GOP-majority legislature passed the bill and the Wisconsin Supreme Court in June, by a 4-3 margin, upheld the law, reversing a permanent injunction issued the previous month by a state circuit court. A union-driven recall campaign against certain pro-Walker legislators proved mostly unsuccessful. But activists on November 15 launched a petition drive to recall the governor and are reportedly close to acquiring the minimum required signatures for submission by the January 17 deadline.
Political confrontation wasn’t the whole story in 2011. As usual, union officials and functionaries produced numerous examples of financial impropriety. Among the more dramatic stories: Tim Foley, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134 in Chicago, resigned his post in October following revelations that he and three other union officials had been illegally double-dipping into their municipal and union pension plans. The leaders of a United Food and Commercial Workers local in Brooklyn, N.Y. were arrested and charged with shaking down or stealing $2.4 million from employers and members. Screen Actors Guild (SAG) health and pension plan boss Bruce Dow and his cronies faced unexpected scrutiny for the disappearance of possibly $10 million in union benefits. Hundreds of FBI and other law enforcement agents in a single January morning arrested well over 100 Mafia wise guys and associates, mainly in the New York City area, for murder, racketeering, money-laundering, loan-sharking, extortion and other offenses going back some three decades. The FBI in October arrested nearly a dozen persons, including retired union employees of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), for conspiring to concoct phony medical histories in order to expand eligibility for outsized pension and “disability” checks, a scheme that over the long term could cost U.S. taxpayers at least $1 billion. And Melissa King, first exposed in late 2009, pleaded guilty to fleecing the New York-area Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) “Sandhogs” local where she served as benefits manager, though in an amount less than the alleged sum of more than $40 million.
Taking into account the subjective criteria used in the past for ranking importance, here are the ten corruption/aggression stories, in reverse order, that stood out most in 2011: